A decade of support: Inside Jeffery Roberts’ passion for biomedical research

Jeffery Roberts remembers saying goodbye to Grand Rapids. As he prepared to further his studies in Chicago, he thought he was leaving a city that had finished growing. Thirty-five years later, he returned to a dramatically different place — one thriving with educational, medical and scientific discovery. The city hadn’t just reinvented itself, Roberts said, it had refocused on helping humanity.

Classical training in the fine arts combined with degrees in architecture, fashion and interior design led him on a path to start his own full-service design firm, Jeffery Roberts Design. His return to Grand Rapids brought new opportunities to engage with the city, including a tour of Van Andel Institute.

“I was invited to the building to tour the labs and get a feel for the Institute’s work, when all of a sudden, I just started thinking ‘this is a cause for me,’” Roberts said.

Roberts has directly supported that cause for more than a decade, becoming a fervent supporter of VAI through donations, sponsorships, event organizing and volunteering. His support extends beyond donations, as he wants to be involved as often as possible.

“I realize that my passion and talent can be used to further support the Institute, so I have to use that gift,” Roberts said. He’s even helped organize events from the ground up, playing a key role in the development of Building Hope, an architecture and design focused fundraising event. Regardless of how busy he may be in his professional life, Roberts always has time for VAI.

“In our lives, we have to be aware of the balance of our purpose within society and our personal responsibility for well-being,” Roberts said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to focus on using the talents I’ve been given to make positive impacts on the world.”

So much involvement can be tiring, but rewarding. A self-described introverted extrovert, Roberts needs time to recharge after large events. He chooses to focus on the value of VAI’s work and the commitment of other supporters, a combination that always energizes him to stay involved. That energy is also fueled by a personal connection: When Roberts was a teenager, his younger brother died from a rare form of childhood cancer. A patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, his brother participated in treatment research, which developed into an approved protocol for other patients. Seeing the direct impact of cancer research fueled Roberts into a lifelong commitment to support similar causes.

“Everyone can make a choice as to how they give back,” Roberts said. “For me it’s about supporting institutions like VAI, places that are working on research that can deliver a better future for everyone.”

Roberts is committed to ensuring that future by continuously looking for ways to get involved with VAI. Although his personal connection to cancer means it will always remain a focus, he’s recently shifted his interest to VAI’s metabolism research and education initiatives. These are causes that are becoming important in his own life, Roberts said, and he’s excited to learn more about their development.

“Looking back at the happenings of the last decade, you can see a clear acceleration in terms of research and education,” Roberts said. “You start to think ‘what is the next generation going to do, how will this success continue?’ You can’t help but get excited about it, and I hope to continue playing a small part through my support.”